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2011 Draft Prep: Thomas will be top rookie rusher

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Mark Ingram is the best rookie running back coming into the season, and it's not close. He's the Fantasy running back to target from the 2011 draft class.

But Ingram might not finish the season as the best rookie running back. The prediction here is Daniel Thomas will be the best rookie rusher this year.

I know, call me crazy. Ingram has done nothing but solidify his standing with a solid preseason, while Thomas has looked lost. He's now No. 2 on the depth chart in Miami behind Reggie Bush, who was cast off in New Orleans to make room for Ingram.

But if you look at the scenarios that should happen, Thomas has the chance to be better than Ingram this year, and he's becoming a tremendous value pick on Draft Day. With Thomas, you just have to be patient.

That's something Dolphins coach Tony Sparano is learning about Thomas, who was drafted in the second round out of Kansas State. Thomas has struggled during the preseason and has failed to run with confidence. But Sparano said he's seen a difference with Thomas as the regular season gets closer.

"I think whenever he gets the ball a bunch he starts to get into a bit more lather," Sparano said. "He's been good the last couple of weeks. It was just in the beginning where it was overwhelming a little bit."

Thomas told me after the second preseason game against Carolina that the lockout hurt his development. But he said things are "starting to slow down a lot," and he's learning the offense and how to play his game. He was a star in college in racking up 2,850 total yards and 30 touchdowns the past two years with the Wildcats, and he said he gets better as his workload increases.

"I think it will be the same way here," Thomas said of his ability to produce. "It's just a good fit for me."

While Bush might open the season as the starter, it's unlikely he will have or maintain a featured role. He's not durable enough and he has just one 16-game season in his career – as a rookie in 2006. The most carries he had in a season was 157 in 2007.

Since then, Bush saw his carries decline to a career-low 36 last season. He will definitely improve on that since he was limited to just eight games in 2010, but Thomas will eventually emerge as the featured running back for the Dolphins. Even Sparano indicated a concern for Bush's workload.

"I really don't have a great grasp of what that number is yet with Reggie," Sparano said when asked about Bush's carries. "I kind of have to watch it, you know, particularly early when you really want to ride him early and get him going, and that's probably where I've got to watch him the most."

As for Ingram, it's difficult to predict a letdown, but there's a strong possibility he continues to share carries evenly with Pierre Thomas throughout the year. And when you factor in Darren Sproles, that's a three-headed backfield, meaning Ingram will unlikely be a featured running back as a rookie.

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He should work at the goal line – he has three touchdowns in the preseason – but he's only averaging 2.9 yards per carry. And there's this lingering knee swelling, which hopefully will go away.

Look, I'm not saying Ingram is going to be bad by any stretch. I have drafted him in as many leagues as possible because he will be an exceptional Fantasy option this year. I just wouldn't be surprised if Thomas is better by the end of the season, and I target him on Draft Day as well.

In looking at their Average Draft Position, you have to take Ingram first. Name recognition alone gets him drafted early since he won the Heisman Trophy and a national title at Alabama. He is being selected as the No. 25 running back at No. 55 overall in Round 5.

Thomas is being drafted as the No. 29 running back at No. 75 overall in Round 7. And, by comparison, Bush is being taken as the No. 32 running back at No. 92 overall in Round 8.

Something you might want to consider on Draft Day is taking Ingram as your No. 2 running back in Round 4 or 5 and then taking a chance on Thomas two or three rounds later as your No. 3 or 4 option. They could end up being great Fantasy running backs for your team.

This rookie running back class has fallen apart due to injuries to Mikel Leshoure (Achilles' tendon) and Ryan Williams (knee), and we might not see DeMarco Murray, Roy Helu, Stevan Ridley, Delone Carter or any of the other members of this rookie class have starring roles. But Ingram and Thomas should play at a high level.

And if things go the right way for Thomas, he could end up at the head of the class. He has the potential to pass Ingram for the No. 1 rookie spot this season.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch sits out on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:49 pm ET) Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch did not practice on Wednesday.

Lynch has been using Wednesday as a veteran's day all season, so the move isn't a big surprise. He's been battling a back injury throughout most of the season, but has been able to play through it. Lynch has 1133 rushing yards, with 10 touchdowns, this year. 


Texans' DeAndre Hopkins unable to practice on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:57 pm ET) Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins did not practice on Wednesday.

Hopkins is dealing with an ankle injury, and was unable to go. Hopkins has played in all 14 games this season. He has 1167 yards on 69 receptions. Hopkins has caught six touchdowns. His status will likely be determined based on how much he is able to practice on Thursday and Friday. 


49ers WR Michael Crabtree misses practice Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:57 pm ET) 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree did not practice Wednesday due to a knee injury, reports CSNBayArea.com. Crabtree, who has not cleared 60 receiving yards since Week 11, isn't believed to be seriously hurt.

He's scheduled to play the Chargers on Saturday night. If Crabtree can't go, it could mean increased targets for fellow starter Anquan Boldin.


Raiders QB Derek Carr limited by thumb injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was limited in Wednesday's practice with a thumb injury, but coach Tony Sparano isn't too concerned, reports CSNBayArea.com. Carr has thrown one or zero touchdown passes in four of his past five games entering Sunday's contest against Buffalo.

Report: Jay Cutler to be benched Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:47 pm ET) The Bears will bench starting quarterback Jay Cutler Week 16 against the Lions, according to ESPN.

The move comes as a big surprise given the seven-year, $126 million contract Cutler signed in January. Cutler has had a big problem with turnovers this season, throwing 18 interceptions and fumbling 12 times. The move could mark the end of Cutler's season as the starter, and puts his future in Chicago in jeopardy. 

The team will turn to Jimmy Clausen to replace Cutler.


Texans RB Arian Foster held out Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:40 pm ET) Texans running back Arian Foster did not practice Wednesday with what the team called a hip injury. Foster was listed on the injury report last week with a groin injury, then racked up 117 yards from scrimmage on 29 touches at Indy.

Foster, who might just be getting a veteran's rest day, is expected to start Sunday against the Ravens. Houston is a 5.5-point underdog at Caesars Palace Race and Sports Book.


Report: Bears to start Jimmy Clausen Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:39 pm ET) The Bears will start Jimmy Clausen Week 16 against the Lions, according to ESPN.

The move comes as a major surprise. While Jay Cutler has faced scrutiny for his body language and demeanor, the team handed him a seven-year, $126 million contract last season. The move seems to indicate that Cutler is done for the season, and puts his career with the Bears in jeopardy.

Clausen has seen time in three games this season, completing three passes in nine attempts. His last start came back in 2010, his rookie season. That year, Clausen threw for 1,558 yards, with three touchdowns against nine interceptions. 

The Lions are currently 7-point favorites, according to VegasInsider.com.


Brandon LaFell, Shane Vereen limited for Patriots
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:23 pm ET) Patriots wideout Brandon LaFell and running back Shane Vereen were limited in practice on Wednesday.

LaFell is dealing with a shoulder injury. Vereen was listed with an ankle issue. Both players have been active for every game this season. Their statuses will be determined by how much work they can put in on Thursday and Friday.


Seahawks C Max Unger not practicing Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:15 pm ET) Seahawks starting center Max Unger, who's missed four straight games with knee and ankle injuries, was unable to practice Wednesday, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Lemuel Jeanpierre will start Sunday night at Arizona if Unger can't go.

Coach Pete Carroll said Unger had a "tough recovery" after participating in last Friday's practice.


Chiefs' Jamaal Charles puts in limited work on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:03 pm ET) Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles was able to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday. 

Charles was listed with both an ankle and knee injury. He's missed one game this season, but has been able to play through bumps and bruises for the most part. Charles' status will likely be determined based on how much work he can put in on Thursday and Friday.


 
 
 
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